Are Microwaves Safe? (Long Story Short, Yes)

Are Microwaves Safe to Use?

The microwave oven has revolutionized the way in which we cook food. Prior to its invention, families were forced to rely on convection ovens for cooking. While effective, convection ovens weren’t particularly fast. The microwave, however, offered a faster and more convenient cooking method.

However, some people are still hesitant to use microwaves, fearing they could cause cancer, infertility or other health problems. So, should you be concerned about the dangers of microwaves?

Origins of the ‘Microwave Scare’

The microwave has origins dating back to the 1940s, during which the first functional model was sold by the U.S. military defense firm Raytheon. Known as the RadaRange, it was substantially larger than consumer-grade microwaves today. And with a price of $5,000, it was also more expensive.

It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, when the microwave began to make its way into American homes. They were smaller and more affordable than the early RadaRange models. More importantly, though, they allowed families to cook meals in just minutes instead of hours. By the late 1990s, roughly nine out of 10 U.S. households owned a microwave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Since its creation, there have always been scare stories about microwaves and their potential dangers, but it was only with the birth of the Internet and the proliferation and propogation of madcap theories that these nonsensical stories really started to spread.

Why Microwaves are Safe

Because they use radio waves to cook food, some people assume that microwaves pose a health risk. As explained by the World Health Organization (WHO), microwaves are completely safe when used according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Modern-day microwaves feature a closed design, meaning the radio waves they produce are contained. Granted, some microwaves may leak, but as noted by WHO, such leakage is generally “well below” acceptable standards.

There’s a risk of thermal burn when touching recently microwaved foods, but this isn’t a fault of the microwave. All hot foods pose this type of risk, regardless of how they were cooked. It’s the user’s responsibility to wait until the food has cooled before consuming it.


When You Shouldn’t Use a Microwave

Of course, improper use of a microwave can increase the risk of injury or toxicity. According to an article published by Harvard University, plastic tubs, water bottles, takeout containers and similar plastic materials are not microwaveable safe. When microwaved, toxic substances like bisphenol-A (BPA) are released into the food. Therefore, you should only use microwavable-safe dishes, which are typically made of ceramic.

Aluminum foil and other metal containers should also be avoided when using a microwave. As the radio waves penetrate through the metal, it heats up and may ignite. Metal is an excellent conductor of electricity, so it’s particularly sensitive when placed inside of a microwave.

The bottom line is that microwaves are safe to use when following the manufacturer’s instructions. Just remember to use microwaveable-safe containers and avoid heating up metal.